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Shakespeare meets Twitter in a virtual ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

The Hub Theatre Company cast for "Much Ado About Nothing"
The Hub Theatre Company cast for "Much Ado About Nothing"Hub Theatre Company

Zoom rehearsals reveal unexpected talents, says director Bryn Boice.

“Rob Orzalli broke out a euphonium during rehearsals for ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’” says Boice, who is leading the Hub Theatre Company’s production, which will be performed live via Zoom through its website and Facebook page Nov. 14-15 and Nov. 20-21. “Turns out he was a band geek and it adds so much to his character and the scene.”

Boice, an Elliot Norton Award-winning director, had been tapped by Hub artistic director Lauren Elias to direct “The Waiting Room” by Lisa Loomer, but when they needed to pivot after the pandemic struck, both agreed they wanted to embrace the new world of virtual theater rather than simply use it as a platform. Elias says the troupe is working with software that “ups the showmanship, allowing us to create some sight gags and make the 'Brady Bunch’ squares more visually engaging.”

“It’s not quite film,” says Boice, “but it does require some storyboarding to make sure we know what the stakes are and who should be the focus of the scene.”

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Boice has also adapted Shakespeare’s comedy to reflect the current COVID crisis and the cast’s Zoom frustrations, as well as working in some communication strategies Shakespeare never dreamed of. In the comedy, Beatrice and Benedick engage in witty, caustic arguments, which morph into more romantic exchanges thanks to the trickery of their friends. The plot is complicated when Beatrice’s cousin Hero is accused of betraying her husband-to-be with another man, and the effort to clear her name brings Beatrice and Benedick together.

“I always wanted to see what happens when you incorporate modern things like texting and tweets into the sharp banter between Beatrice and Benedick,” says Elias. “When you add the social distancing of the pandemic, it’s easy to see how their group threads might turn into a Twitter war even when they never meet face to face.”

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Boice says the adaptations are only five percent of the script, because she’s eager to tell Shakespeare’s story. She has divided the play into two sections with a five-minute intermission in between.

“There won’t be long lines for the bathrooms, so there’s no need to make it 15 minutes,” Boice says.

The actors, Elias and Boice say, had to be willing to stage manage themselves, be their own costume caretakers, and work with lighting designers to create the appropriate effects in their homes.

“It was important to us that we have diversity of both age and race,” says Elias, “while also choosing actors who would be open to learning something new.”

“It’s definitely a different rehearsal experience,” says Boice, “but the chat in Zoom has allowed people to toss out ideas, offer encouragement. There is incredible joy in doing the work and excitement about forging something new together.”

‘First Look’ at a Lowell family

Playwright and actor Vichet Chum, whose autobiographical play, “KNYUM,” was part of Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s 2018 season, will be the focus of MRT’s final “First Look” series, with a live Zoom reading on Nov. 12 of an untitled work-in-progress. The play centers on a Lowell family and their “silent and spoken generational dreams for each other.” The reading is free but audience members must RSVP at www.mrt.org/Vichet.

Boston theaters united by a T-shirt

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Over 50 Boston-area theaters have joined forces to help promote the sale of T-shirts in support of the Boston Theater Development Fund. Proceeds from the T-shirts, which are imprinted with theater seats and the saying “Boston Plays Wicked Hard,” go to support local actors, directors, designers, and other theater artists who have lost their livelihoods as a result of COVID-19. The shirts cost $25 and can be purchased at http://bostonplays.creativeswhocare.org. Sales end Nov. 9.

Free viewing of Berkshire film shorts

Great Barrington Public Theater is partnering with Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative for “Berkshire Outdoor Shorts,” an online series of short, solo films centered on the natural environment of the Berkshires. Each film is written by a local writer and produced in a socially distant outdoor location.

The first film in the series, “King Corona,” is by playwright Steven Otfinoski and features Christopher Brophy (Shakespeare & Company, SpeakEasy Stage Company) as the self-absorbed king of viruses.

Each film in the series will run 7-10 minutes. “King Corona” is available for free viewing on YouTube (search for “King Corona” or Berkshire Outdoor Shorts). Other films in the series will include “The Reject” by Mark St. Germain, “Almost You” by Leigh Strimbeck, and “Druantia” by Ryan Katzer.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Presented by Hub Theatre Company of Boston, Nov. 14-15, 20-21. Tickets are pay-what-you-can, $20 suggested. www.hubtheatreboston.org, www.facebook.com/hubtheatreboston